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Title: Christmas Eve at Swamp's End
Author: Duncan, Norman, 1871-1916
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's Note

The punctuation and spelling from the original text have been faithfully
preserved. Only obvious typographical errors have been corrected.



[Illustration: "Make of this child, a Man"]



  author of




  Copyright, 1911-1915


  _A Selection from
  A Tale of the Big Woods_



It was long after noon in the far, big, white Northwest. Day was on the
wing. Christmas Eve splendidly impended--thank God for unspoiled
childish faith and joys of children everywhere! Christmas Eve was fairly
within view and welcoming hail, at last, in the thickening eastern
shadows. Long Day at its close. Day in a perturbation of blessed
unselfishness. Day with its tasks of love not half accomplished. And Day
near done! Bedtime coming round the world on the jump. Nine o'clock
leaping from longitude to longitude. Night, impatient and determined,
chasing all the children of the world in drowsy expectation to
sleep--making a clean sweep of 'em, every one, with her soft, wide broom
of dusk. "Nine o'clock? Shoo! Off you go! To-morrow's on the way.
Soon--oh, soon! To-morrow's here when you fall asleep. Said 'em already,
have you? Not another word from either of you. Not a whisper, ye
grinning rascals! Cuddle down, little people of Christ's heart and
leading. Snuggle close--closer yet, my children--that your arms may grow
used to this loving. Another kiss from mother? Blessed Ones! A billion
more, for nights and mornings, for all day long of all the years,
waiting here on mother's lips. And now to sleep. Christmas _is_
to-morrow. Hush! To-morrow. Yes; to-morrow. Go t' sleep! Go t' sleep!"
And upon the flying heels of Night--but still far over seas from the
blustering white Northwest where Pattie Batch was waiting at Swamp's End
in the woods--the new Day, with jolly countenance, broad, rosy and
delighted, was somewhere approaching, in a gale of childish laughter,
blithely calling in its westward sweep to all Christian children to
awaken to their peculiar and eternal joy.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was Christmas weather in the big woods: a Christmas temperature like
frozen steel--thirty below in the clearing of Swamp's End--and a
rollicking wind, careering over the pines, and the swirling dust of snow
in the metallic air. A cold, crisp crackling world! A Christmas land,
too: a vast expanse of Christmas colour, from the Canadian line to the
Big River--great, grave, green pines, white earth and a blood-red
sunset! The low log-cabins of the lumber camps were smothered in snow;
they were fringed with pendant ice at the eaves, and banked high with
drifts, and all window-frosted. The trails were thigh deep and drifting.
The pines--their great fall imminent, now--flaunted long, black arms in
the gale; they creaked, they swished, they droned, they crackled with
frost. It was coming on dusk. The deeper reaches of the forest were
already dark. Horses and teamsters, sawyers, road-monkeys, axemen,
swampers, punk-hunters and all, floundered from the bush, white with dry
snow, icicled and frosted like a Christmas cake, to the roaring
bunk-house fires, to a voracious employment at the cooks' long tables,
and to an expanding festival jollity. Town? Sure! Swamp's End for
Christmas--the lights and companionship of the bedraggled shanty
lumber-town in the clearing of Swamp's End! Swamp's End for Gingerbread
Jenkins! Swamp's End for Billy the Beast! Swamp's End--and the roaring
hilarity thereof--for man and boy, straw-boss and cookee, of the
lumber-jacks! Presently the dim trails from the Cant-hook cutting, from
the Bottle River camps, from Snook's landing and the Yellow Tail works,
poured the boys into town--a lusty, hilarious crew, like loosed
school-boys on a lark, giving over, now, to the only distractions, it
seemed--and John Fairmeadow maintained it--which the great world
provided in the forests.

Pattie Batch might have been aware of this--the log shack was on the
edge of town--had not the window-panes been coated thick with Christmas
frost. She might have heard rough laughter passing by--the Bottle River
trail ran right past the door--had not the big Christmas wind snored in
the stove, and fearsomely rattled the door, and shaken the cabin, and
swept howling on. But she never in the world would have attended. Not in
that emergency! She would not, for anything, have peeped out of the
windows, in perfectly proper curiosity, to watch the Bottle River jacks
flounder into town. Not she! Pattie Batch was busy. Pattie Batch was so
desperately employed that her swift little fingers demanded all the
attention that the most alert, the brightest, the very most bewitching
gray eyes in the whole wide world could bestow upon anything whatsoever.
Christmas Eve, you see: Day done. Something of soft fawn-skin engaged
her, it seemed, with white patches matched and arranged with marvellous
exactitude: something made for warmth in the wind--something of small
fashion, but long and indubitably capacious--something with a hood. A
little cloak, possibly: I don't know. But I am sure that it could
envelop, that it could boil or roast, that it could fairly smother--a
baby! It was lined with golden-brown, crackling silk, which Pattie
Batch's mother had left in her trunk, upon her last departure, poor
woman! from the sordid world of Swamp's End to regions which were now
become in Pattie Batch's loving vision Places of Light. And it was upon
this treasured cloth that Pattie Batch's flashing needle was working
like mad in the lamplight. A Christmas sacrifice: it was labour of love
and the gift of treasure.

Pattie Batch was lovely. Everybody knew it; and there's no denying it.
Grief had not left her wan and apathetic. She had been "a little man."
She had been so much of a little man that she was now much more of a
little woman than ever she had been before. In respect to her bewitching
endearments, there's no mincing matters, at all. It would shame a man to
'hem and haw and qualify. She was adorable. Beauty of youth and heart of
tenderness: a quaint little womanly child of seventeen--gowned, now, in
a black dress, long-skirted, to be sure! of her mother's old-fashioned
wearing. Gray eyes, wide, dark-lashed, sun-sparkling and shadowy, and
willful dark hair, a sweetly tilted little nose, a boyish, masterful
way, coquettish twinkles, dimples in most perilous places, rosy cheeks,
a tender little figure, an aristocratic toss to her head: why,
indeed--the catalogue of her charms has no end to it! Courage to boot,
too--as though youth and loveliness were not sufficient endowment--and
uncompromising honesty with herself and all the world. She took in
washing from the camps: there was nothing else to do, with Gray Billy
Batch lost in Rattle Water, and now decently stowed away by the Reverend
John Fairmeadow. It was lonely in Gray Billy Batch's cabin, now, of
course; it was sometimes almost intolerably so--and ghostly, too, with
echoes of long-past footsteps and memories of soft motherly words.
Pattie Batch, however, a practical little person, knew in her own mind,
you must be informed, exactly how to still the haunting echoes and
transform the memories into blessed companions of her busy, gentle
solitude; but she had not as yet managed the solution.

Pattie Batch wanted a baby. Companionship, of course, would be a mere
by-product of a baby's presence in the cabin; the real wealth and
advantage would be a glowing satisfaction in the baby. At any rate,
Pattie Batch wanted one: she always had--and she simply couldn't help
it. Babies, however, were not numerous at Swamp's End; in point of fact,
there was only one--a perfectly adorable infant, it must be understood,
a suitable child, and worthy, in every respect, of being heartily
desired by any woman--which unhappily belonged to the bartender who
lived with Pale Peter of the Red Elephant saloon. No use asking for
_that_ baby! Not outright. It could be borrowed, however. Pattie Batch
_had_ borrowed it; she had borrowed it frequently, of late, and had
mysteriously measured it with a calculating eye, and had estimated, and
scowled in doubt, and scratched her head, and pursed her sweet red lips,
and had secretly spanned the baby, from chin to toe and across the back,
with an industriously inquiring thumb and little finger. But a borrowed
baby, it seems, is of no use whatsoever; the satisfaction is said to be
temporary--nothing more--and to leave a sense of vacant arms and a
stinging aggravation of envy. So what Pattie Batch wanted was a baby to
_keep_--a baby she could call her own and cherish against meddling--a
baby that should be so rosy and fat and curly, so neat and white, so
scrubbed and highly polished from crown to toe-nails, that every mother
in the land, beholding, would promptly expire on the spot of amazement,
incredulity and sheer jealousy.

There were babies at Elegant Corners--a frowzy, listless mud-hole of the
woods, near by. They were all possessed by one mother, too. The last
comer had appeared in the fall of the year; and Pattie Batch--when the
great news came down to Swamp's End--had instantly taken the trail for
Elegant Corners.

"Got another, eh?" says she, flatly, to the wretched Mrs. Limp.

"Uh-huh!" Mrs. Limp sighed and rolled her eyes, as though, God save us!
the ultimate misfortune had fallen upon her. "Number eight," she

"Don't you _like_ it?" Pattie demanded, hopefully.

Mrs. Limp was so deeply submerged in tears that she failed to commit

"You _don't_ like it, eh?" Pattie pursued, hope immediately abounding.

Mrs. Limp sniffed.

"Well," said Pattie, her little heart all in a flutter--she was
afflicted, too, with an adorable lisp in excitement--"I th'pothe I
_ought_ t' be _thorry_."

Mrs. Limp seemed dolefully to agree.

Pattie Batch came then straight to the point. "I been thavin' up," said
she. "I been hard at it for more 'n theven monthth."

Mrs. Limp lifted her blue eyelids.

"Yep," said Pattie, briskly; "an' I got thirty-four twenty-three right
here in my thkirt. _Where'th that baby?_"

The baby was fetched and deposited in her arms.

"Boy or girl?" Pattie inquired, with business-like precision.

"Boy," Mrs. Limp sighed, "thank God!"

Pattie Batch was vastly disappointed. She had fancied a girl. It was a
shock, indeed, to her ardour. It was so much of a shocking
disappointment that Pattie Batch might easily have wept. A boy--a _boy_!
Oh, shoot! But still, she reflected, considering the scarcity, a
boy--this boy, in fact, cleaned up--Pattie Batch was all the time
running the mottled infant over with sharply appraising eyes--yes, the
child had possibilities, unquestionably so, which soap and water might
astonishingly improve--and, in fine, this little boy might--

"Mithuth Limp," said Pattie, looking that lady straight in the eye,
"I'll give you twenty-five dollarth for thith here baby. By George, I

The astonished mother jumped out of her chair and her lassitude at the
same instant.

"Not another thent!" Pattie craftily declared. "Here--take your baby."

Mrs. Limp did not quite _take_ the baby. That would be but a pale
indication of the speed, directness and outraged determination with
which she acted. She snatched the baby away, with the precision of a
brisk woodpecker after an escaping worm; and she hugged it until it
howled for mercy--and she hushed it--and she crooned endearment--and she
kissed the baby with such fervour and persistency that she saved its
puckered face a washing. And then she turned--in a rage of
indignation--in a storm of scorn--in a whirlwind of execration--upon
poor little Pattie Batch. But Pattie Batch was gone. Discreet little
Pattie Batch didn't need to be _told_! Her little feet were already
pattering over the trail to Swamp's End; and she was crying as she ran.

       *       *       *       *       *

But Pattie Batch's wish for a baby went back to the very beginnings of
things. Ask Gingerbread Jenkins. Gingerbread Jenkins knows. It was
Gingerbread Jenkins who had found her, long ago--Pattie was little more
than a baby herself, then--on the Bottle River Trail; and to Gingerbread
Jenkins' astonishment the child was lugging a gun into the woods.

"Where _you_ goin'?" says Gingerbread Jenkins.


"Gunnin', eh? What for?"

"Jutht gunnin'."

"But what you gunnin' _for_?"

"None o' your bithneth," says saucy little Pattie Batch.

"It _is_ my business," Gingerbread Jenkins declared; "an' if you don't
tell me what you're gunnin' for I'll have you home in a jiffy."

"Well," says Pattie, "I'm--gunnin'."

"What for?"

"Storks," says Pattie.

"Goin' t' _kill_ 'em?" Gingerbread inquired.

"No," says Pattie.

"What's your gun for?"

"I'm goin' t' wing a couple," says Pattie, "an' tame 'em."

That was Pattie Batch.



Well, well! there was only one baby at Swamp's End; and that baby Pattie
Batch had adopted. In her mind, of course: _quite_ on the sly. Nobody
could adopt Pale Peter's bartender's baby in any other way. And here was
Christmas come again! Day gone beyond the last waving pines in a cold
flush of red and gold: Christmas Eve here at last. Pattie Batch's soft
arms were still wanting; there were a thousand kisses waiting on her
tender lips for giving; her voice was all attuned to crooning sweetest
lullabys; but her heart was empty--save for a child of mist and wishes.
It was dark, now; but though the wind was still rollicking down there
was no snow blowing, and the shy stars were winking wide-eyed upon the
busy world and all the myriad mysteries it exhibited out-of-doors. The
gift of silk and fawn-skin was finished. A perfect gift: fashioned and
accomplished with all the dexterity Pattie Batch could employ. "Just as
if," she had determined, "it was for my _own_ baby." And Pattie
Batch--after an agitated glance at the clock--quickly shoed and cloaked
and hooded her sweet and blooming little self; and she listened to the
lusty wind, and she put a most adorable little nose out-of-doors to
sense the frosty weather, and she fluttered about the warm room in
search of her mittens, and then she turned down the lamp, chucked a log
in the stove, put on the dampers like a prudent householder, and, having
made quite sure that the door was latched, scampered off to town in vast
and twittering delight with the nipping frost, with the roistering wind,
the fluffy snow, the stars, the whole of God's clean world, and with
herself, too, and with the blessed Night of the year.

She was exceedingly cautious; and she was not observed--not for the
smallest flash. The thing was accomplished in mystery. Before she was
aware of it--before her heart had eased its agitation--she was safely
out again; and there, in plain view, on the table, in Pale Peter's
living-room behind the saloon, lay the gift of silk and fawn-skin for
Pale Peter's bartender's baby--a Christmas mystery for them all to solve
as best they could.

Pattie Batch peeked in at the window.

"I wonder," she mused, "if they'll _ever_--if they'll _ever in the
world_--find out I done it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Presently Pale Peter's bartender came in. This was Charlie the Infidel.
Pattie Batch rose on her cold little toes the better to observe. The
frost exploded like pistol shots under her feet. She started. Really,
the little mite began to feel--and rather exquisitely--like a thief in
the night. There was another explosion of frost as she crept nearer her
peek-hole in the glowing window. Whew! How deliciously mysterious it
was! Nothing much, however, happened in Pale Peter's living-room to
continue the thrill. Charlie the Infidel, in haste, chanced to brush the
fawn-skin cloak off the table. He paused impatiently to pick it up, and
to fling it back in a heap: whereupon he pressed on to the bar. _That_
wasn't very thrilling, you may be sure; but Charlie the Infidel, after
all, was only a father, and Pattie Batch, her courage not at all
diminished, still waited in the frosty shadow, quite absorbed in
expectation. Entered, then, Mrs. Bartender--a blonde, bored,
novel-reading little lady in splendid array. First of all, as Pattie
Batch observed, she yawned; secondly, she yawned again. And she was
about to attempt the extraordinary feat of yawning a third time--and
doubtless would have achieved it--when her washed blue eyes chanced to
fall on the fawn-skin coat, with its lining of golden-brown silk
shimmering in the lamplight. She picked it up, of course, in a bored
sort of way; and she was positively on the very verge of being
interested in it when--would you believe it?--she attacked the third
yawn--or the third yawn attacked her--and however it was, the yawn was
accomplished with such dexterity, such certainty, and with such
satisfaction to the lady, that she quite forgot to look at the fawn-skin
cloak again.

"By George, she's tired!" Pattie Batch exclaimed to herself.

Pattie Batch sighed: she sighed twice, in point of fact--the second
sigh, a great, long one, discovering itself somewhere very deep
within--and then she went home disconsolate.




Soon after dark, John Fairmeadow, with a pack on his broad back, swung
from the Jumping Jimmy trail into the clearing of Swamp's End, ceasing
only then his high, vibrant song, and came striding down the huddled
street, a big man in rare humour with life, labour and the night. A
shadow--not John Fairmeadow's shadow--was in cautious pursuit; but of
this dark, secret follower John Fairmeadow was not aware. Near the Café
of Egyptian Delights he stumbled. The pursuing Shadow gasped; and John
Fairmeadow was so mightily exercised for his pack that he ejaculated in
a fashion most unministerial, but recovered his footing with a jerk, and
doubtless near turned pale with apprehension. But the pack was safe--the
delicate contents, whatever they were, quite undisturbed. John
Fairmeadow gently adjusted the pack, stamped the snow from his soles, as
a precautionary measure, wiped the frost from his brows and eyelids, in
the same cautious wisdom, and, still followed by the Shadow, strode on,
but with infinitely more care. At the Red Elephant--Pale Peter's glowing
saloon--he turned in. The bar, as always, in these days, gave the young
apostle to those unrighteous parts a roaring welcome. It was become the
fashion: big, bubbling, rosy John Fairmeadow, with the square jaw, the
frank, admonitory tongue, the tender and persuasive heart, the
competent, not unwilling fists, was welcome everywhere, from the Bottle
River camps and the Cant-hook cutting to the bunk-houses of the Yellow
Tail, from beyond the Divide to the lower waters of the Big River, in
every saloon, bunk-house, superintendent's office and cook's quarters of
his wide green parish--welcome to preach and to pray, to bury, marry,
gossip and scold, and, upon goodly provocation, to fight, all to the
same righteous end. A clean man: a big, broad-shouldered, deep-chested,
long-legged body, with a soul to match it--a glowing heart and a purpose
lifted high. There was no mistaking the man by men.

John Fairmeadow, clad like a lumber-jack, upright, now, in the full
stature of a man, body and soul, grinned like a delighted schoolboy. His
fine head was thrown back, in the pride of clean, sure strength; his
broad face was in a rosy glow; his great chest still heaved with the
labour of a stormy trail; his gray eyes flashed and twinkled in the soft
light of Pale Peter's many lamps. Twinkled?--and with merriment?--in
that long, stifling, roaring, smoky, fume-laden room? For a moment: then
closed, a bit worn, and melancholy, too; but presently, with reviving
faith to urge them, opened wide and heartily, and began to twinkle
again. The bar was in festive array: Christmas greens, red berries,
ribbons, tissue-paper and gleaming tinfoil--flash of mirrors, bright
colour, branches of pine, cedar and spruce from the big balsamic woods.
It was crowded with lumber-jacks--great fellows from the forest, big of
body and passion, here gathered in celebration of the festival. John
Fairmeadow, getting all at once and vigorously under way, shouted "Merry
Christmas, boys!" and "Hello, Charlie!" to the bartender; and he shook
hands with Pale Peter, slapped Billy the Beast on the back, roared a
greeting to Gingerbread Jenkins, exclaimed "Merry Christmas!" with the
speed and detonation of a Gatling gun, inquired after Butcher Long's
brood of kids in the East, and cried "Hello, old man!" and "What's the
good word from Yellow Tail?" and "How d'ye do?" and "Glad t' see you!"
and everywhere shook hands and clapped backs--carefully preserving,
however, his own back from being slapped--and devoutly ejaculated "God
bless you, men! A Merry Christmas to you all and every one!" and
eventually disappeared in the direction of Pale Peter's living-quarters,
leaving an uproar of genial delight behind him.

John Fairmeadow's Shadow, however, unable to enter the bar of the Red
Elephant, waited in seclusion across the windy street.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Bartender was still yawning as John Fairmeadow entered upon her
_ennui_; but when the big minister, exercising the softest sort of
caution, slipped off his gigantic pack, and deposited it with
exquisitely delicate care, and a face of deep concern, on the table, she
opened her faded eyes with interested curiosity. And as for the contents
of the pack, there's no more concealing them! The article must now be
declared and produced. It was a baby. Of course, it was a baby! The
thing has been obvious all along. John Fairmeadow's foundling: left in a
basket at the threshold of his temporary lodging-room at Big Rapids that
very morning--first to John Fairmeadow's consternation, and then to his
gleeful delight. As for the baby itself--it was presently unswathed--it
is quite beyond me to describe its excellencies of appearance and
conduct. John Fairmeadow himself couldn't make the attempt and escape
annihilation. It was a real and regular baby, however. One might
suggest, in inadequate description, that it was a plump baby; one might
add that it was a lusty baby. It had hair; it had a pucker of amazement;
its eyes, two of them, were properly disposed in its head; its hands
were of what are called rose-leaf dimensions; it had, apparently, a
fixed habit of squirming; it had no teeth. Evidently a healthy baby--a
baby that any mother might be proud of--doubtless a marvel of infantile
perfection in every respect. I should not venture to dispute such an
assertion; nor would John Fairmeadow--nor any other bold gentleman of
Swamp's End and Elegant Corners--_not in these later days_!

Mrs. Bartender, of course, lifted her languid white hands in uttermost

"There!" John Fairmeadow exploded, looking round like a showman. "What
d'ye think o' _that_? Eh?"

"But, Mr. Fairmeadow," the poor lady stammered, "what have you brought
it _here_ for?"

"Why not?" John Fairmeadow demanded. "Why not, indeed? It's perfectly

"What am I to _do_ with it?"

"It isn't intoxicated, my good woman," John Fairmeadow ran on, in great
wrath; "and it's never been in jail."

"But my _dear_ Mr. Fairmeadow, do be sensible; what am I to _do_ with

"Why, ah--I should think," John Fairmeadow ventured--the baby was still
sleeping like a brick--"that you might first of all--ah--resuscitate it.
Would a--a slight poke in the ribs--provoke animation?"

But the baby didn't need a poke in the ribs. It didn't need any other
sort of resuscitation. Not _that_ baby! The self-dependent, courageous,
perfectly competent and winning little rascal resuscitated itself.
Instantly, too--and positively--and apparently without the least effort
in the world. Moreover--and with remarkable directness--it demanded what
it wanted--and got it. And having been nourished to its satisfaction
from young Master Bartender's silver-mounted bottle (which John
Fairmeadow then secretly slipped into his pocket)--and having yawned in
a fashion so tremendous that Mrs. Bartender herself could never hope to
equal that infinite expression of boredom--and having smiled, and having
wriggled, and having giggled, and cooed, and attempted--actually
attempted--to get its great toe in its mouth without extraneous
assistance of any sort whatsoever--even without the slightest suggestion
that such a thing would be an amazingly engaging trick in a baby of its
age and degree--it burst into a gurgle of glee so wondrously genuine and
infectious that poor, bored Mrs. Bartender herself was quite unable to
resist it, and promptly, and publicly, and finally committed herself to
the assertion that the baby was a dear, wherever it came from.

John Fairmeadow snatched it from the table, and was about to make off
with it, when Mrs. Bartender interposed.

"My _dear_ Mr. Fairmeadow," said she, "that child will simply catch its
_death_ of cold!"

There was something handy, however--something of silk and fawn-skin--and
with this enveloping the baby John Fairmeadow swung in a roar with it to
the bar--and held it aloft in all that seething wickedness--pure symbol
of the blessed Christmas festival. And there was a sensation, of
course--a sensation beginning in vociferous ejaculations, but presently
failing to a buzz of conjecture. There were questions to follow: to
which John Fairmeadow answered that he had found the baby--that the baby
was nobody's baby--that the baby was his baby by right of finders
keepers--that the baby was everybody's baby--and that the baby would
presently be somebody's much-loved baby, _that_ he'd vouch for! The
baby, now resting content in John Fairmeadow's arms, was diffidently
approached and examined. Gingerbread Jenkins poked a finger at it, and
said, in a voice of the most inimical description, "Get out!" without
disturbing the baby's serene equanimity in the slightest. Young Billy
Lush, charging his soft, boyish voice with all the horrifying intent he
could muster, threatened to "catch" the baby, as though bent upon
devouring it on the spot; but the baby only chuckled with delight. Billy
the Beast incautiously approached a finger near the baby's stout
abdomen; and the baby--with a perfectly fearless glance into the very
depths of the Beast's frowzy beard--clutched the finger and smiled like
an angel. Long Butcher Long attempted to tweak the baby's nose; but the
effort was a ridiculous failure, practiced so clumsily on an object so
small, and the only effect was to cause the baby to achieve a tremendous
wriggle and a loud scream of laughter. These experiments were variously
repeated, but all with the same cherubic result; the baby conducted
itself with admirable self-possession and courage, as though, indeed, it
had been used, every hour of its life, to the company of riotous
lumber-jacks in town.

The inevitable happened, of course: Billy the Beast, whose pocket was
smoking with his wages, proposed the baby's health, and there was an
uproarious rush for the bar.

"Just a minute, boys!" John Fairmeadow drawled.

It was an awkward moment: but the jacks were by this time used to being
bidden by this man who was a man, and the rush was forthwith halted.

"Just a minute, boys," John Fairmeadow repeated, "for your minister!"

The baby was then held aloft in John Fairmeadow's big, kind, sensitive
hands, and from this safe perch softly smiled upon the crowd of flushed
and bearded faces all roundabout.

"Boys," John Fairmeadow drawled, significantly, "this is the only sort
of church we have in these woods."

There was a laughing stir and shuffling: but presently a tolerant
silence fell, in obedience to the custom John Fairmeadow had
established; and caps came off, and pipes were smothered.

"A little away from the bar, please," the big preacher suggested.

Pale Peter nodded to Charlie the Infidel; and the clink of glasses
ceased--and the bottles were left in peace--and the hands of the
bartender rested.

"Now, boys," said John Fairmeadow, letting the foundling fall softly
into his arms, "I'm not going to preach to you to-night, though God
knows you need it! I'm just going to pray for the baby. _Dear Father of
us wilful Children of the Vale_," he began, at once, lifting a placid,
believing face above the smiling child in his arms, "_we ask Thy
guardianship of this child. In us is no perfect counsel for him nor any
help whatsoever that he may surely apprehend. In Thine acceptable wisdom
Thou settest Thy little ones in a world where presently only Thou canst
teach them: teach Thou then this little one. Thou alone knowest the
right path for a little boy's inquiring feet: lead then this little boy.
Thou alone art saving helper to an adventuring lad: help then this lad.
Thou alone art all-perceiving and persuasive, alone art Truth Teller to
a bewildered youth and Good Example in his wondering sight: be then Good
Example and Teller of Truth to this youth. Thou alone art in the
fashioning ways of Thine own world a Maker of Men: make then of this
little child a Man. We ask no easy path for him--no unmanly way--no
indulgent tempering of the winds. We pray for no riches--for no great
deeds of his doing--for no ease at all nor any satisfaction. We ask of
Thee in his behalf good Manhood. Lead him where true men must go: lead
him where they learn the all of life; lead him where they level down and
build again; lead him where in righteous strength his hands may lift the
fallen; lead him where in anger he may strike; lead him where his tears
may fall; lead him where his heart may find a pure desire. O Almighty
God, Lover of children, Father of us all alike, make of this child, in
the measure of his service and in the stature of his soul, a Man.

Amen, indeed!




As for poor little Pattie Batch, all this while, she sat alone, a
doleful heart, in the shack at the edge of the big, black woods, quite
unaware of the momentous advent of a Christmas baby at Swamp's End. The
Christmas wind was still high, still shaking the cabin, still rattling
the door, still howling like a wild beast in the night, still roaring in
the red stove; and snow was falling again--a dry dust of snow which
veiled the wondering stars. It was no longer a jolly, rollicking
Christmas wind. The gale, now, it seemed, was become inimical to the
lonely child: wild, vaunting, merciless, terrible with cold. Pattie
Batch, disconsolate, sighed more often than a tender heart could bear to
sanction in a child, and found swift visions in the glowing coals,
though no enlivening tableaux; but--dear brave and human little
one!--she presently ejaculated "Shoot it, anyhow!" and began at once to
cheer up. And she was comfortably toasting her shins, in a placid
delusion of stormy, mile-wide privacy, her mother's old-fashioned long
black skirt drawn up from her dainty toes (of which, of course, the
imminent John Fairmeadow was never permitted to be aware), when, all at
once, and clamouring above the old wind's howling, there was a
tremendous knocking at the door--a knocking so loud, and commanding, and
prolonged, that Pattie Batch jumped like a fawn in alarm, and stood for
a moment with palpitating heart and a mighty inclination to fly to the
bedroom and lock herself in. Presently, however, she mustered courage to
call "Come in!" in a sufficient tone: whereupon, the door was
immediately flung wide, and big John Fairmeadow, with a wild, dusty
blast of the gale, strode in with a gigantic basket, and slammed the
door behind him, leaving the shivering, tenacious Shadow, which had
secretly followed from Swamp's End, to keep cold vigil outside.

"Hello, there, Pattie Batch!" John Fairmeadow roared. "Merry Christmas!"

Pattie Batch stared.

"Hello, I say!" John Fairmeadow cried, again. "Merry Christmas, ye

Pattie Batch, gulping her delight, and quite incapable of uttering a
word, because of it, flew to the kitchen, instead of to the bedroom, and
returned with a broom, with which, while the Shadow peeked in at the
window, she brushed, and scraped, and slapped John Fairmeadow so
vigorously that John Fairmeadow scampered into a corner and stood at

"Look out, there, Polly Pry!" he shouted, in a rage; "don't you _dare_
look at my basket."

Pattie Batch had been doing nothing of the sort.

"Don't you so much as _squint_ at my basket," John Fairmeadow growled.

Pattie Batch instantly _did_, of course--and with her eyes wide and
sparkling, too. It was really something more than a squint.

"Keep your eyes off that basket, Miss Pry!" John Fairmeadow commanded,
again. "Huh!" he complained, emerging from his refuge and throwing his
mackinaw and cap on the floor; "anybody'd think there was something in
that basket for _you_."

"There ith," Pattie Batch gasped, in ecstasy.

"Is!" John Fairmeadow scornfully mocked. "Huh!"

Pattie Batch caught John Fairmeadow by the two lapels of his coat--and
she stood on tiptoe--and she wouldn't let John Fairmeadow turn his head
away--(as if John Fairmeadow cared to evade those round, glowing
eyes!)--and she looked into his gray eyes with a bewitching
conglomeration of hope, amusement, curiosity and adoring childish
affection. "There ith, too," she chuckled, her lisp getting the better
of her. "Yeth, there ith. I know _you_, Mithter Fairmeadow."

John Fairmeadow ridiculously failed to smother a chuckle in a growl.

"Doth it bite?" Pattie Batch inquired, maliciously feigning a terrific

"Nonsense!" John Fairmeadow declared; "it hasn't a tooth in its head."
He added, with one eye closed, and palms lifted: "But--aha!--just you
wait and _see_."

"Well," Pattie Batch drawled, "I th'pose it'th a turkey. It'th
thertainly _thome_thin' t' eat," she declared.

"Good _enough_ to eat, I bet you!" John Fairmeadow agreed, with the air
of having concealed in that veritable big basket the sweetest morsel in
all the world.

"Ith it a chicken?"

"Nonsense!" said John Fairmeadow; "it's fa-a-a-ar more delicious than
chicken. Hi, there, Poll Pry!" he roared, and just in time; "keep your
hands off."

"Is it anything for the house?"

"No, indeed; the house is for _it_."

Pattie Batch scowled in perplexity.

"The back yard, too," John Fairmeadow added; "and don't you forget that
this whole place--and all the world--belongs to just what's in that

"I'm sure," poor Pattie Batch mused, scratching her curls in
bewilderment, "I can't guess what it _could_ be."

Both were now staring at the basket; and at that very moment the blanket

"Ith a dog!" Pattie Batch exclaimed.

"Dog!" the outraged John Fairmeadow roared. "Nothing of the sort! No

Pattie Batch clasped her hands. "It ith, too!" she cried. "I thaw it

"It is _not_!"

"Ith a kitten, then."

"It is _not_ a kitten!"

Thereupon--while the Shadow, by whom John Fairmeadow had been dogged
that night, now peered with acute attention through a break in the frost
on the window-pane--thereupon, without any warning save a second slight
movement of the blanket, a sound--and not by any means a growl--the
thing was certainly not a dog--a sound proceeded from the depths of the

Pattie Batch jumped away.

"Well, well!" cried John Fairmeadow; "what's the row?"

Row, indeed! Pattie Batch was gone white; and she swayed a little, and
shivered, too, and clenched her little hands to restrain her amazing
hope. "Oh," she moaned, at last, far short of breath enough, "tell me
quick: ith it--ith it a--a----"

John Fairmeadow threw back the blanket in a most dramatic fashion; and
there, wrapped in the neglected fawn-skin cloak, all dimpled and
smiling, lay--


"By George!" screamed Pattie Batch; "it _ith_ a baby!"

"Your baby," John Fairmeadow whispered. "God's Christmas gift--to you."

Pattie Batch--adorable, young mother!--reverently approached, and,
bending with parted lips, eyes shining, and hands laid upon her
trembling heart, for the first time gazed content upon the little face.
She lifted, then--and with what awe and tenderness!--the tiny mortal
from the warm basket, and pressed it, with knowing arms, against her
warmer, softer young breast. "My baby!" she crooned, her lips close to
its ear; "my little baby--my own little baby!"


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